RUSSIA 1, FREEDOM 0
TANKS ROLL IN, AND EUROPE ROLLS OVER
IN the wake of Russia's ruthless invasion of Georgia, the United States sent relief supplies on military aircraft and ships. Our vice president went to Tbilisi. And we promised a billion dollars in reconstruction aid.
The European Union sent a get-well card. With no return address.
Washington asked that Georgia and Ukraine be put on the fast track to NATO membership to deter further Russian aggression. The EU suggested sending unarmed civilian observers, instead.
The Bush administration begged for a unified front against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's barbarism. Rejecting any penalties for Russia, the EU took the bold step of postponing talks on a trade deal.
Within the EU, Britain and Poland insisted that Russia needed a good slap for its latest strategic tantrum. Other Europeans found that ill mannered.
As I'd predicted, the Europeans found the rape of Georgia an embarrassment, nothing more. The odious former German chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, even took Russia's side. (Of course, Schroeder also took a highly paid job with Russian energy interests, so he may not have been entirely impartial.)
Back when the United States went ahead with the liberation of Iraq over protests from France and Germany - whose corporations made money off Saddam - Washington was damned for going it "alone." Now, as we try to build a consensus to respond to brutal aggression, the same countries want no part of it. (Financial interests are involved again - this time, it's gas, not oil.)
Russians are not by nature disposed to much happiness, but Putin and his paladins must be downright gleeful.
The tragedy is that the West could have made Putin pay. And we didn't need a military confrontation. We needed unity.
Together, the Euro-American democracies had the power to inflict serious economic and political pain on the Putin regime. But Europe lacks a conscience - and, without Europe, we lack the clout.
This is all going to end badly. Putin's feeling invincible now, and, just to keep in practice, he's gone back to killing journalists who criticize the czar. Last week saw the murder of two more Russian-citizen media figures.
Magomed Yevloyev, a Web-site publisher from Ingushetia, was abducted from a commercial airliner by the police. The cops shot him and dumped his body.
Two days later, TV reporter Abdulla Alishayev was shot and killed in the nearby "republic" of Daghestan. Russian government sources blame "Wahhabis."
Plus, a reporter and editor, Milosla Bitokov, from the Karbardino-Balkar "republic," was beaten so badly he had to be hospitalized. But, given all the journalists Putin has murdered since he came to power, a few broken bones or a fractured skull hardly count.
This recent violence suggests an effective response to resurgent Russian imperialism: Each of those journalist critics of the Putin regime came from a different, but equally restive, province on the northern slopes of the Caucasus. (Historically, Daghestan was a tougher nut for czarist troops to crack than Chechnya.)
The dominant Muslim populations - and some Christians - in the region view today's ethnic-Russian presence as an unbroken extension of Soviet and czarist tyranny. And the locals are tough customers - even Stalin couldn't break their will completely.
Given Putin's brutality and the belligerent threats from his gang (including Flunky, the eighth dwarf, a k a President Dmitri Medvedev), it may be time to dust off our anti-Soviet strategy from Afghanistan: Arm and fund militant separatist movements in the Russian-occupied Caucasus.
Yes, there are risks. Some of those local nationalists are also Islamists. Well, just don't give them another batch of stingers until they can prove they've expended the previous lot.
Sometimes, the best way to take down Lucifer is to back Beelzebub.
Let's face it: We've got Islamist extremism on the defensive. That's one thing the Bush administration got right. The Muslim-terrorist problem will be with us to some degree for years to come, but it's not remotely as great a threat as a resurgent militarist Russia bristling with missiles and led by a reincarnation of Ivan the Terrible.
The Russians chose to play hardball with Georgia, a democracy allied to the United States. They won the first inning. Now it's time to dust off our Louisville Sluggers.
Ralph Peters' latest book is "Looking for Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World."